As educators, we are all teachers, researchers, learners, material developers, writers, and evaluators in educational systems; so we have different roles and sometimes we have to see who we are and what we are doing from different perspectives. This article is completely on this issue and it reminded me to evaluate my teaching style from the students’ perspective or my researching skills from a teacher’s perspective.
In this study, the findings of a project, titled “A student-teacher made teaching materials project: looking at teaching from the other side of the fence” and carried out at the Institution of English Language Education, Assumption University, Thailand, were presented in detail. The project was carried out with 11 MA students and each student conducted a demonstration lesson for their friends and the other students evaluated this demonstration lesson using a checklist. The teachers were also responsible for preparing supplementary materials for the course. The aims of the project were listed as raising the critical awareness of student-teachers concerning the classroom effectiveness of their planned activities and materials, producing a set of sample texts made by student-teachers to be modified and used for teaching writing and increasing awareness of the value of self- and team-resources when designing teaching materials in addition to published materials. After the project, the supplementary materials prepared by the participants were collected, compiled and utilized in real classroom settings.
At the end of the project, it was concluded that this kind of project which include demonstration lessons and peer evaluation helped the participants to gain insights and benefits and these were categorized in five groups as (a) experiencing both teaching and learning, (b) becoming a learning community, (c) taking risk and trying out new ideas (d) benefits from peer- and self-evaluation and (e) benefits gained from the materials development.
- Experiencing both teaching and learning:
Many people have suggested the focus of peer observation for professional growth should be on the observer and not on the observee (p.255).
When I read this sentence, I remembered the days when I observed my students while they were teaching in practice teaching course. They presented such creative and interesting techniques and activities in some classes that I admired and used their activities in my own courses. The observers usually compare themselves with the observee and this helps them to improve their teaching strategies. In other words, the observee is like a mirror for the observer.
- Becoming a learning community:
A learning community is an intentionally developed community that promotes, stimulates, and maximizes the group’s and group members’ learning (p.256).
It was claimed that the project encouraged the student-teachers to help each other while improving their teaching profession. This is one of the characteristics of learning communities. Helping, sharing and caring for each other are quite important terms in this kind of communities.
The project also enabled them to learn from each other, discover and value the diverse teaching ideas and expertise of their peers (p257).
While they were designing learning materials, demonstrating the lesson and participating the lesson as students, the main purpose was to improve the quality of the course. As they had a common purpose for being there, they really helped each other during the demonstration lessons. They all felt that they were members of a learning community and they really learned.
- Taking risk and trying out new ideas: As the situation was not a real classroom setting and just a simulation of a classroom environment, the student-teachers were more courageous enough to try out new techniques and activities. The students were willing to help to the student-teacher to find out an effective teaching style. During the project, there were some situations in which the techniques failed at first but needed just a few modifications. In these cases, the students had some recommendations and this helped to design an effective course. In this kind of situations, mistakes could help to improve. Here, I really like what one of the participants stated about taking risks:
I like it here, because this project witnesses my failure and success. I still remember clearly, how sad I feel because of a lot of complaints from my first demo lesson. That kind of experience should not be forgotten;however, I also remember that excited feeling when I finish my second demo lesson successfully, this kind of experience is memorable forever! (pseudonym, Maria) (p.257).
- Benefits from peer- and self-evaluation: Although evaluation causes a bit more threatening atmosphere, it helps both the observer and the observee. In this article, it was also mentioned that teachers usually prefer to be evaluated by their peers instead of their supervisors. Here, the participants used a checklist for the evaluation and this made the evaluation more objective and effective. Instead of just saying “it was good” or “it was poor”, the participants evaluated their peers in detail.
- Benefits gained from the materials development: As a result of the project, the participants developed materials for a real class, English One. As they recognized that their audience was not an artificial audience and they were working for a real classroom, they were more motivated. Moreover, as they participated in demonstration lessons as students, they found the strengths and weaknesses of the materials both from a teacher’s perspective and a student’s perspective. This showed that if the teachers took parts in curriculum design, materials development and course design, the courses would be more effective.
Finally, several implications of this project were presented. First of all, this project helped the student-teachers to look at their teaching from different perspectives. They had different roles during the demonstration lessons, such as teaching, participating as a student, evaluating, developing material, etc.; and this helped them to evaluate their teaching styles from a wider perspective. Secondly, the student-teachers noticed the importance of demonstration lessons before teaching a real classroom. Although this is not always possible to rehearse for all courses, it would be very useful if we have the chance. Finally, student-teachers became aware of the fact that they could develop supplementary materials and they could modify the exercises in the published book. Their objective is not only conveying what the book says but also to design new supplementary materials.
Actually, not only in teaching but also in many situations, it is quite useful to change your perspective and your point of view in order to better see the situation. Most of the time, teachers claim that their students, administration, chairperson do not understand them; however, it would be better to look at the situation from their perspective and this would make our profession much easier and enjoyable.
Tan Bee Tin. 2006. Looking at teaching through multiple lenses. ELT Journal 60/3: 253-261.